System Rush Hands-On

We give Ideaworks3D's new racer the hands-on treatment at a Nokia press event.

Ideaworks3D, the developer that brought you N-Gage classics like Tony Hawk and Colin McRae Rally 2005, has flown back into action with System Rush, a futuristic racing game that's one part F-Zero, one part Tron, and two parts Wipeout. If you think that sounds like an awesome combination, you're absolutely right--the beta build we played at a recent Nokia press event in Canada combined all the graphical verve of McRae with an arcade-oriented gameplay approach.

There's no question that racing is already one of the N-Gage's strongest genres, so it's a bit odd for Nokia to place so much additional emphasis on racers in its 2005 portfolio, with titles like Glimmerati, Pit Runner, and System Rush looming large on its pre-E3 radar. Nevertheless, if you're going to make a racing game for the N-Gage, Ideaworks3D is a good choice for a developer. The British company has earned its reputation on the strength of its mobile ports of existing console games. Consequently, the company's creative talent has been overshadowed by its technical prowess--indeed, System Rush represents its first try at making its own game from scratch.

In essence, System Rush will provide you with a window on the esoteric world of network security, minus the millions of lines of code and marathon technical-support sessions. As Ideaworks3D representatives describe it, the game focuses on a valiant hacker's quest to activate a so-called "logic bomb," thereby defeating a consortium of large corporations that are using the Internet to further their nefarious ends--such as cornering the market on secret Nigerian gold mines and tacking a foot on to your vertical jump. We're not sure how this device works, but we do know that the relevant code has been split into five sections and hidden in a like number of corporate intranets. You'll have to recover the bits of code by piloting your ship through these hostile networks (which look suspiciously like futuristic racetracks) and outrunning security software and rival "white hat" hackers who have been tasked with guard duty.

All told, there will be 15 tracks in the final game--three per corporate environment. In a nod to nonlinear gameplay, System Rush will allow you to tackle the first four networks in any order. As in most arcade-style racing games, the game's tracks are filled with obstacles, jumps, and enemies for you to cope with, as well as a liberal number of power-ups. Your data ship is capable of three types of movement: gripping, which is typical traction-based turning; drifting, which allows you to strafe laterally around obstacles when your finger is off the accelerator; and gliding, for when your rig suddenly unfurls a pair of wings in midair. We found that the driving controls were generally very intuitive, although the handling will need some optimization before release. Flying is a very neat addition to the mix, allowing you to jump in front of enemy racers if used properly, but it's difficult to sustain for long periods of time, due to airborne obstacles. The power-ups, which are found both on the track and in the air, will include fairly routine equipment like shields and freeze bombs. But there are two other in-game elements that deserve special mention: the gravity slingshots and "bitstreaming." Slingshots are special round zones that grab your ship and whip it in a fast circle, giving you a huge speed boost. In a nod to the laws of physics, the further you hit from the zone's center, the more impetus you get. Bitstreaming derives from the racing term "slipstreaming," and involves following closely behind a rival to pick up its shower of bits (ones and zeros) to refill your own energy.

There's no question that Ideaworks3D's specialty is graphics, and it appears that System Rush will not disappoint in this department. The company's proprietary 3D engine, called Segundo, coats the game in a slick electronic sheen, featuring lots of planar geometry, neon colors, and blinking lights. The game is already running at a smooth 20 frames per second, and its speed may improve with more development time. Ideaworks3D has plans to include 4-player Bluetooth multiplayer support, as well as shadow racing over N-Gage Arena, although these features had not been enabled at press time.

System Rush is tentatively scheduled for release in early June. Stay tuned for more details.

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